by Milo Clark
(Swans - March 28, 2005) Probing Walter Laqueur's works as displays of his mind provides a great deal of historical perspective and puzzlement. Why or how can or does a person so steeped in history end up where he does? Toilet training problems? Unrequited loves? Crossed wires in interpersonal relationships? Career frustrations? Too much piss and vinegar for breakfast?
In terms of historical perspective, Laqueur's definition of terrorism is helpful. ". . . the systematic use of murder, injury and destruction or the threat of such acts, aimed at achieving political ends." (p. 237)
Laqueur allows that whatever dependent cycles underlying terrorist outbreaks may be, their rhythms are largely undiscoverable in the main. Quirks of human psychology may be as good a framework as any. "Many Terrorisms exist." (p. 22) They are constantly changing over time. Trying to deal with key psycho-social factors is elusive and usually after the fact. Motives, if discoverable, remain conjectural in actuality.
The logical conclusion available is that terrorism is war without end. Now and then, here and there, some one or some group is going to break civil restraints and do damage. Do we prepare as best we can as for a hurricane or flood, and respond in context at the time? Do we accept that terrorist events have a small probability like airplane crashes or traffic accidents and hope that they involve someone else somewhere else? Must we shackle our society, lock up civil, human and natural rights, bind our creativity, accept fear and containment and incur crippling costs to guard against the low probabilities of terrorism as we do in so many other instances?
Yet, in a world given to grays, ambiguities and upside-down talk, Laqueur declares that ". . . there is no room for moral relativism (or nihilism) in a civilized society, and there are yardsticks by which to measure human actions." Agreed. Yet, I find the sword two-edged. Doing so makes me a moral relativist, perhaps nihilist?
Gathering up his balls of wax, Laqueur roars onward.
"Anti-globalism [which Laqueur scorns as you may note in his work] means opposition to capitalism, neoliberalism and corporate power. It regards globalization as a synonym for the Westernization or Americanization of the world. It believes that globalization perpetuates social injustices or even aggravates them. And it is of course true as a leading economist put it, that global capitalism is much more concerned with expanding the domain of market relations than with democracy, expanding education and enhancing social opportunities. . . . Globalization is not helping many poor countries -- open capital markets, free trade and privatization are making less developed countries not necessarily more stable." (1) p. 213
Walter Laqueur makes little secret of his preferences. Among those who get "it" wrong in Europe alone are (p.169) The London Review of Books, Granta, The Guardian, The Independent, BBC, the Times (of London) and Le Monde.
He detests Arundhati Roy, whom he frames in quotes (p. 171) as ". . . a stupendously vain, preening egotistical self-publicist seeking the limelight." Salman Rushdie also makes his shit list as do Edward Said (p. 135), Noam Chomsky (p. 140), Howard Zinn, Susan Sontag, Norman Mailer and Oliver Stone (p. 163).
Moving on from personal animosities, Laqueur warms up with judgments.
". . .another red herring frequently encountered is the argument that the whole preoccupation with terrorism by small groups is misplaced because terrorism exercised by governments has been far more bloody, causing far more victims. . . this argument ignores the fact that the very existence of a state is based on its monopoly of power." (p. 237)
Then, I ask, what purposes may be served by events such as the Magna Carta and Bill of Rights which, in part, underlay core documents, ideals and values of the once United States of America? The history of human rights which an earlier Laqueur chronicled is a history of restraints on states. (See Laqueur III in previous Swans.)
He moves on: "State power is necessary in many ways: to establish and maintain law and order; to apprehend thieves or murderers; to collect taxes; to regulate; to have a foreign policy. . . ." (p. 237)
"Containing, restraining, reining state power; prohibiting or deflecting state power from acts damaging or killing innocents is also a defining process of civilized states." (p. 237)
If a state does "it", "it" is a legitimate use of power. If anyone else does "it," "it" is terrorism. Q. E. D.
In short, Walter Laqueur probably ends up gladdening the dark hearts of neocons and Bushies. Puzzlement, for sure. A closet Straussian, perhaps.